Sunday, January 13, 2008

Day 2: 24 December 2007; Palaces and Kasbahs in Rabat

It took a couple of hours to drive out of Casablanca across to Rabat. It was time for our first Moroccan lunch, and we were herded into a little restaurant in the main drag. I tried a simple omelette and mint tea – both of which were to become staples for the next few weeks.

Bread also features heavily in Moroccan meals...every Moroccan meal to be precise. It’s offered automatically, and is great for soaking up juices in tagines, soups and pretty much any Moroccan food.

Our local guide then joined us on the bus for a quick coach tour round the main streets. Every Moroccan town’s main street is called after the king – Mohammed V. At least that makes it easy to always find the main drag.

We drove into the guarded ground of the Royal Palace, which had a number of stylishly understated buildings. Fountains and broad boulevards sprawled before us, and our local guide explained that this area was actually a little city in itself. VIPs and the King’s servants and their families lived in various parts of the grounds. The guide pointed out the King’s personal mosque, where he recites prayers each Friday.

Next stop was a visit to Hassan Tower and the Mausoleum of Mohammed V. They’re REALLY into mausoleums in this country, and this one was another example of ornate decorations. The grounds of Hassan Tower were lovely and looked out over Rabat to the sea.

The sun was well and truly out now, and it felt like summer – a lovely feeling in the middle of a northern hemisphere winter. It was starting to feel like a holiday!

Our final sightseeing stint for the afternoon was Rabat’s Kasbah – or Kasbah of the Oudaias. You can’t see much from outside the towering walls, which are ten metres high and 2.5 metres thick, but once inside, a magical maze of blue and whitewashed walls and narrow little streets revealed itself.

Cats scooted amongst the tourists and cars, as we walked slowly through what I reckoned was one of the most beautiful old towns I’d ever been in. I just loved the feel of the place.

We walked upwards to a large open area that overlooked the sea, and the rest of Rabat. It was on the walk back down through the Kasbah, that our local guide asked if I wanted to stay in Rabat with him and be his second wife. Nice! Fortunately the widely accepted practice of Moroccan men being allowed to take up to four wives was abolished some time ago. So I had to decline.

As we continued to head down the stairs, past people’s houses and yet more cats, we arrived at a fabulous little open air cafe that served mint tea and delicious Moroccan pastries. Some pastries resembled baklava, some were crisp pastry crescents, and they were all syrupy sweet and almondy.

The scent of citrus and the sea wafted everywhere, and we left the cafe to walk through lovely gardens. Orange trees laden with fruits lined the gardens, and as we were to see throughout the rest of the trip, lined pretty much every street.

Rabat’s Kasbah was indeed a little oasis in this buzzing city, and it was unfortunate that we couldn’t spend more time here.That said, we’d had a long day on limited sleep, so it was nice to get into the hotel and have a back bash for a few hours before dinner.

Our hotel was just opposite Rabat’s medina, which appeared from the outside to be completely packed with markets and people. Interestingly, our tour leader warned us not to go into this medina at night, and certainly not to go there alone.

We’d agreed to have a group dinner, and it was this evening I tried my first real Moroccan tagine – lemon chicken with olives. It was delicious!

It was also Christmas Eve, and the group was excited about the tour and in festive spirits. We sampled our first Moroccan red wine, the brand incidentally recommended by Lonely Planet, and a raucous night was enjoyed by all.

This was also the group’s introduction to Billy the Bull – Susie’s stuffed travel companion. Billy was sporting a stunning pink Chinese evening outfit, and he generated much interest from the locals, who I’m sure thought we were completely bonkers.

I wondered what awaited us for Christmas Day...

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